DR Congo in second day of voting after chaotic startThu, 21 Dec 2023 20:23:56 GMT

Elections in the Democratic Republic of Congo drew to a close Thursday evening, after a second day of voting necessitated by logistical problems that had prevented some polling stations from opening the previous day.As people in some parts of the country finally began voting, ballot counting was already underway elsewhere, with the first results expected Friday.The impoverished but mineral-rich central African nation held four concurrent elections on Wednesday — to pick a president, national and regional lawmakers, as well as local councillors. President Felix Tshisekedi, 60, was running for a second term in office against a backdrop of years of economic growth but little job creation and soaring inflation.Wednesday’s voting was marked by massive delays nationwide, as the electoral commission struggled to deliver materials to voting stations long after polls were meant to have opened.In some cases, polling stations never opened on the first day of polling.Denis Kadima, the head of the electoral commission, Ceni, declared on Wednesday night that people in places where casting ballots had proved impossible would vote on Thursday.It was not clear how many of the 75,000 polling stations were affected, but AFP reporters witnessed voting in cities in eastern Democratic Republic of Congo, in the southeastern city of Lubumbashi, and in the capital Kinshasa.In the eastern city of Goma, at the heart of armed violence, voters said they spent Wednesday night in the courtyard of a school where voting was taking place in a tense atmosphere without sufficient food or water.The vote was mostly peaceful, but in the east a polling booth was sacked by displaced people who could not cast ballots. And in Kinshasa, RFI journalist Pascal Mulegwa was assaulted by pro-government activists, according to Reporters Without Borders. – Final result January -Problems and delays affected polling booths nationwide, Ceni chief Kadima told reporters on Wednesday. He estimated that 70 percent of voters had been able to cast ballots.Late Thursday, the electoral commission said voting was over, though it was unclear whether people still queueing would be allowed to cast their ballots.The DRC is one of the poorest countries in the world despite its vast reserves of copper, cobalt and gold.Around 44 million Congolese in the nation of 100 million are registered to vote, and more than 100,000 candidates were running for various positions.Ceni will begin to publish initial results from the presidential election on Friday, one of its top officials Didi Manara said. The Constitutional Court is then expected to announce definitive results on January 10.- Logistical problems -Staging elections in a country roughly the size of continental western Europe, with very few roads, poses a daunting logistical challenge.There had long been concerns that the electoral commission was unprepared, with plenty evidence of that on polling day.Wednesday afternoon, an influential election observer mission by a union of Catholic and Protestant churches said nearly a third of the country’s polling booths had not opened, and about 45 percent of voting machines had suffered technical problems.Leading opposition politicians described the process as chaotic, and in a joint statement called for fresh elections.The main opposition candidates — gynaecologist Denis Mukwege, 68, the 2018 Nobel Peace Prize laureate; 58-year-old business magnate and ex-provincial governor Moise Katumbi; and 67-year-old ex-oil executive Fayulu — all complained of irregularities.Five opposition presidential candidates, including Fayulu and Mukwege, later opposed the vote extension, arguing that it was illegal. – ‘Foreign candidates’ -Tshisekedi, who took office in 2019 and was facing 18 challengers, says he wants a second term to “consolidate his gains”.He is the favourite to win the single-round presidential vote, though his record, as he himself has acknowledged, is mixed.Throughout the campaign, Tshisekedi poured scorn on what he termed “foreign candidates” — suggesting that his opponents had dual loyalties and lacked the will to stand up to Rwanda, which the DRC accuses of funding rebel groups on its soil.Katumbi, a former governor of mineral-rich Katanga province and chairman of the country’s leading football club, Tout Puissant Mazembe, was the main target of such attacks. Armed conflict in eastern DRC also overshadowed much of the electoral campaign.Militias have plagued the troubled region for decades, a legacy of regional wars that flared in the 1990s and 2000s. Tensions have ratcheted up further since the M23 group began capturing swathes of territory in late 2021.Rwanda has been accused of supporting the rebels, which Kigali denies.Clashes with M23 fighters had subsided in recent weeks but resumed Thursday, according to corroborating sources. They hold sway over large parts of North Kivu province, where voting was impossible.